Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Review: The Dry Grass of August

The Dry Grass of August is the debut novel by 71-year-old Anna Jean Mayhew. That makes me so happy. I'm not sure I have it in me to ever write a novel, but I love knowing that there are authors out there who are just getting published beyond 70.

This is a novel reminiscent of The Help: 1950s racial tension in the South, centering around a family and its maid. The story is told from the POV of a 13-year-old girl named Jubie, who adores Mary, the family's housekeeper/nanny, and despises her father. The novel opens with a trip from North Caroline to Florida—a trip in which Mary has to use a separate bathroom, eat outside in the car, etc. The trip turns out to be more of an escape than a vacation; Jubie's parents have a volatile marriage, and during this trip, Jubie finds out why.

At the beginning of the novel, Jubie tells us that "we lost Mary" on this trip, but we don't know exactly what that means until midway through the novel. The novel took a bit of a dive for me at this point. I think I needed to feel Jubie's utter powerlessness more. I needed to see more tension and devastation in order to be convinced of what she did. There were just parts that didn't click for me, and maybe I shouldn't get hung up on these things; but I found it unbelievable that a 13-year-old would drive from Georgia to Charlotte in the middle of the night in the family car. There wasn't enough evidence in the first half that Jubie was this person.

Regardless, this was a good novel. The ending was weak. I said "Wait? That was the end?" Perhaps there will be a sequel. It isn't necessarily bad to want more: I wanted more depth to the characters, more tying up of loose ends, more closure. But there were fantastic moments in the novel—Mayhew is a lovely writer— and it is definitely worth reading.

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